Festival season is officially upon us. As music lovers recover from Coachella, flock to Primavera, Glasto, and everything in between, there’s no doubt they’ll be enjoying performances from artists in the country’s most popular genre: hip hop and R&B. But what happens when black people try to enjoy the culture that they helped make mainstream? For black women, it can be a harrowing experience.
I remember the rage I felt the first time I heard a white woman rap along with French Montana using the N-Word. Or the time I almost got into a fight with another white woman at Coachella who was loudly saying the N-Word repeatedly. I felt anger. I felt betrayed. And I felt like I wasted my money. As it turns out, what felt like an incredibly isolating experience was one that I shared with other black women. Below, we share the stories of five black women who were surrounded by white people at a black artist’s concert.
Invading my safe space
I was at Beyoncé’s historic Coachella performance in 2018. It was my second time at the music festival. My dad went to North Carolina A&T, a historically black university. So immediately, I was familiar with the show’s inspiration. The performance felt intensely personal and empowering for me, but it was disheartening to see how many people didn’t know the Black National Anthem, or how to swag surf. I felt like there were two shows happening: one for the people who understood the symbolism, and one for those who were just there to observe. Beyoncé created a safe space for me, and I felt like the crowd was invading it. It was in that moment that I realised so many people have no idea what black people experience daily.
When I was leaving the show, I almost got in a fight with a white woman who refused to move out of my way after I said excuse me. Since she wouldn’t move, I politely stepped around her and she shoved me in the back. There was a defiance to it. It triggered me because it represented everything I experience as a black woman on a daily basis. I was just not having it. — Amber Kai, Casting Director in Los Angeles
I feel invisible
I live in the San Fran area and when I go to concerts here, it’s almost as if I’m invisible.
When I found out Miguel was performing on New Year’s Eve 2018, my boyfriend (who is half Vietnamese, half white) and I got tickets. The day of the show, Fort Mason, a huge venue out on the San Francisco Bay, was packed. I was expecting to see a few more black people at the show, despite the gentrification in the Bay Area. But most of the people at the concert were not black.
Once the opening acts took the stage, everyone just let loose. It didn’t matter if they were saying the N-Word. They did not care. From what I could tell, I was the only black person around. And I felt almost as if I was validating their presence. It was really uncomfortable. I was tired of people acting like they didn’t see me. Stepping in front of me, on my feet. Shoving me; flipping their hair in my face; hitting me with a bag.
It just boggles my mind how even when you think you can let your guard down at a concert, you can’t. It’s sad that some white people have taken over black music and black culture, without respecting boundaries and personal space. — Amber Richele, Influencer in San Francisco
Struggling to stay present
I was at the Solange concert at Radio City Music Hall in 2017. And although there were more black people than white people in the audience, I felt like I couldn’t fully be in the moment. I constantly felt myself looking to see how the non-black people around me were reacting to certain lyrics. I had to remind myself to be fully immersed in the moment: a performance of an album [A Seat At the Table] created for black women. However, I still felt overly aware of whiteness in the space.
At one point during the show, I told myself to be present. I paid a lot of money for these tickets, and so did everyone else. It was just a reminder of the lack of opportunities black women have to fully take up space. — Diana C, HR Associate in New York City
Is everything on my body secured?
Rae Sremmurd dropped SremmLife 2 in 2016, and I had tickets to the concert at Playstation Theater in Times Square. The concert was general admission, and unfortunately, my friend and I got there late. By the time we finally made our way inside and as close to the stage as we could, we missed the first three openers. People were getting more intoxicated, and doing more drugs, and I could feel things becoming more contentious, especially because it was standing room only.
Suddenly, I felt someone grabbing my hair repeatedly. At first, I ignored it, thinking maybe she was dancing in a tight space. But then it became clear that she was doing it on purpose. I was wearing a blonde wig, and it was starting to lift. In a strange effort to diffuse the situation, the white man she was with started yelling at me. A security guard came over, and thank God she was a black woman. She stopped the confrontation. But if she weren’t black, I’m not sure I wouldn’t have gotten escorted out.
I hate that now when I attend concerts, I make sure that everything on my body is secured. — Raven B, Associate Social Media Editor in New York City
Are you laughing at us, or with us?
Dave Chappelle did a series of concerts and comedy shows with musicians a few years ago. So I went to one with my friend from graduate school, who is white. I was sitting down while my friend went to get a glass of wine, and when he came back the white people on the other side moved over. It was such a small stupid thing, but the assumption that this person wouldn’t be with me, even though there was an empty seat next to me, was bothersome. And that was very early in the concert.
As the show started, I just remember [my white friend] laughing loudly and enthusiastically about some of the jokes. And I remember feeling like are you laughing with us or at us? I automatically thought you must be laughing at us, because you don’t have this specific experience. And I thought to myself I don’t know why I decided to come to this concert with you. I just let it go, because it didn’t feel like it was worth talking about. There was a part of me that didn’t want to know what he was laughing at. I was like man, this is a good concert. So I just left it alone.
I think that’s just the black experience in America, right? It’s a constant internal conversation with yourself: I deserve to be here. I’m not going to let this nonsense ruin my time, ruin my mood, ruin my self esteem. It’s automatic, but it’s exhausting. — Patia B, Health Editor in New York City.